Ex-Gator Cooper packs punch for Eagles


Published: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 12:41 a.m.

Former Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper wasted no time showing his new teammates exactly why he chose football over baseball.

On the first day of the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp, the rookie got into a scuffle with veteran cornerback Ellis Hobbs after a play in which Cooper felt the corner was jamming him with a little too much zeal. Both players' helmets came off during the fight as the benches cleared to separate them.

A career without that kind of contact was not an option.

“I love football. It just kind of suits my personality. I'm an aggressive person,” said Cooper, who got into another tussle with cornerback Macho Harris later in camp. “I'm real competitive and someone that doesn't really deal with failure very well, and that's really all baseball is, just learning how to deal with failure. I'm real happy with where I'm at.”

Philadelphia is a long way from his home in Clearwater. He's reminded of that every day by the high-rise buildings, taxis and city life. However, life on the football field is pretty familiar.

Much like he did at Florida, Cooper is making an impact on every special teams unit (except for field goals). However, he also sees the field plenty on offense after earning the No. 4 receiver spot over veteran Hank Baskett in the preseason.

It hasn't been easy for Cooper, who is relegated to the sidelines before pass-happy head coach Andy Reid decides to go with a four-wide receiver formation.

“I'm obviously sitting there waiting to see the personnel. That aspect kind of stinks, I guess, but that's the situation,” Cooper said. “You got to make the best of it. Everyone's time comes. I'll definitely be ready.”

Although small, speedy playmakers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are constantly in quarterback Michael Vick's sights, the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Cooper provides much different options for Philadelphia.

Outside of the four-wide sets, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is looking to put Cooper's big body to use in the red zone. Mornhinweg is creating specific packages that involve Cooper playing a flex tight end position the team calls the U-Receiver. At times, he lines up in a three-point stance on the line and sometimes out wide.

“I definitely think the coaches have confidence in me,” said Cooper, nicknamed “Sunshine” by his teammates. “I'm out there making plays in practice, trying to make plays in the game and all the preseason games. I haven't proven myself fully, but I've definitely done an adequate job for sure.”

His unique mixture of size, speed and hands has turned heads on the team. After seeing him in camp, fellow receiver Jason Avant said he was sure Cooper would be a good player in the NFL, and possibly great.

He's also impressed the corners he's faced in practice.

“He came off as a receiver that wanted to pummel the DBs. We were like, ‘Damn!' ” cornerback Joselio Hanson said to Philly.com.

“But, hey, good thing he's on my team. I hope when he gets in a game, he does that to the opposing team. He's tough, man. Hard to get around that big body.”

Cooper's potential may be on display quicker than expected. Although he's quick to point out that Kevin Kolb and Vick are both solid quarterbacks, Cooper says he was able to establish a stronger connection with Vick before the regular season started.

Vick targeted Cooper eight times in the preseason, far more than any other wideout. The fifth-round pick out of Florida caught nine passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in those four games.

In Vick's first start of the season in Week 2 against Detroit, he avoided a blitz and spun loose to connect with Cooper for a 20-yard gain on a third-and-9.

The connection may lead to big plays for Cooper, who made several as the Gators' leading receiver last season.

“Both (Vick and Kolb) are really good, but me and Mike kind of hit it off the first day,” said Cooper, who has the same agent as Vick, Joel Segal. “He came up to me first day and introduced himself and said, ‘Hey, if there's anything I can do for you, just let me know.' We just hit it off from there and we connected a few times in the preseason and a bunch during practice and camp. I guess he got a little trust in me. That let me know he'll throw it to me.”

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